State sex worker pro­tec­tions sought

Wiener bases mea­sure on S.F.’s ground­break­ing pol­icy

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Evan Ser­noff­sky

San Fran­cisco’s ground­break­ing pol­icy pro­tect­ing sex work­ers is now be­ing pitched on the state level.

Cal­i­for­nia Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Fran­cisco, will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion Mon­day that would pre­vent law en­force­ment from ar­rest­ing and charg­ing sex work­ers who come for­ward as vic­tims or wit­nesses to se­ri­ous crimes. The pro­posed law, SB233, would also pre­vent of­fi­cers from us­ing con­doms as prob­a­ble cause to ar­rest a sex worker in any sit­u­a­tion.

“Right now, we know there are sex work­ers who are vic­tim­ized or wit­ness crimes and are scared to come for­ward be­cause they think they are go­ing to be ar­rested,” Wiener said. “We want to cre­ate ev­ery in­cen­tive for sex work­ers to feel safe in re­port­ing crimes.”

The for­mer city su­per­vi­sor will an­nounce the leg­is­la­tion at a press con­fer­ence Mon­day at St. James In­fir­mary, a peer­based health and safety clinic for sex work­ers in San Fran­cisco’s Ten­der­loin. The law would mir­ror the city’s land­mark poli­cies that went into ef­fect last year that seek to pri­or­i­tize more se­ri­ous crimes and pro­tect hu­man traf­fick­ing vic­tims.

Po­lice Chief Bill Scott barred of­fi­cers from ar­rest­ing sex work­ers when they are vic­tims or wit­nesses to sex­ual as­saults, hu­man traf­fick­ing, rob­bery, as­sault, kid­nap­ping, and other vi­o­lent crimes. Dis­trict At­tor­ney Ge­orge Gascón sim­i­larly said his of­fice will not pros­e­cute sex work­ers for pros­ti­tu­tion when they come for­ward as vic­tims or wit­nesses to crime.

Wiener said it was im­por­tant to add a com­po­nent of his leg­is­la­tion to stop po­lice from ar­rest­ing sex work­ers sim­ply for car­ry­ing con­doms — a prac­tice San Fran­cisco aban-

doned long ago.

“There are po­lice de­part­ments that will ar­rest and charge sex work­ers based on hav­ing, say, five con­doms,” he said. “The last thing we should be do­ing is sig­nal­ing to sex work­ers that if you carry con­doms to avoid HIV, that’s go­ing to get you ar­rested and pros­e­cuted.”

The pro­posed state law was wel­comed by sex worker and hu­man traf­fick­ing ad­vo­cates.

Carol Leigh, di­rec­tor of the Bay Area Sex Worker Ad­vo­cacy Net­work and a vo­cal ad­vo­cate for the de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion and le­gal­iza­tion of sex work, called the leg­is­la­tion “a step in the right di­rec­tion.”

Dur­ing her time as a sex worker in the early 1980s, Leigh said, she was raped but didn’t come for­ward to re­port the crime out of fear she would be tar­geted for ar­rest.

“The per­son that raped me went on to rape other women,” Leigh said. “I think there are a lot of ways this leg­is­la­tion and these poli­cies can pos­i­tively im­pact sex work­ers.”

It’s un­clear whether the bill will make it through the no­to­ri­ously tough leg­isla­tive process. Even pop­u­lar bills die in com­mit­tee, and Wiener ex­pects to see op­po­si­tion to SB233 from con­ser­va­tive groups.

He hopes Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jori­ties in both houses will help.

“It’s go­ing to take a lot of work,” Wiener said. “We’ll have to make the case that this is good pol­icy that will im­prove pub­lic safety and pub­lic health.”

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